Thiruvananthapuram/Kochi: Kerala bishops' body has petitioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi against the National Commission for Women's (NCW) recommendation to abolish confessions by women in the church.
The Kerala bishops argued that the NCW's ''shocking'' proposal could lead to blackmailing of women.
During the Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference on Friday, the NCW proposal was severely criticised and the gathering unanimously appealed to the Prime Minister to reject it.
In their letter to the PM, the priests suspected a 'hidden agenda' by the NCW chief Rekha Sharma and asked her to withdraw her statement.
“We have written a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, requesting him to reject the panel’s recommendations. This is the question of the existence of the minorities. On what basis has the panel made such a suggestion? What is its motive behind such an act?” Father Varghese Vallikkatt, the spokesperson for the Kerala Catholic Bishops Conference, said.
Meanwhile, reacting to the issue, Union Minister Alphons Kannanthanam also "outrightly rejected" the NCW's recommendation.
Alphons, a Kerala native and a Christian, insisted that the Modi government should not interfere in religious beliefs of people.
"It is not the official stand of the government. The Union Government has no connection with the stand taken by the NCW chairperson Rekha Sharma. It is a personal opinion of Rekha Sharma," Kannanthanam, Union Minister of State for Tourism, wrote in a Facebook post.
"The Narendra Modi government would never interfere in religious beliefs," he insisted.
Expressing his views on the NCW proposal, Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council president Archbishop Soosa Pakiam said, "It was shocking not only for the Christian community but also to everyone who stands for the freedom of religion.''
Pakiam said this while addressing a separate press conference in Thiruvananthapuram.
He said a memorandum has been sent to the Prime Minister against the NCW recommendation.
Accusing the NCW of misusing its powers, Pakiam said the NCW had submitted a "one-sided" report to the Centre without consulting the church.
Pakiam called it an "irresponsible" act done by the NCW "with ulterior motives".
Pakiam also wrote to George Kurian, Member Secretary of National Commission for Minorities, requesting him to raise before appropriate authorities the concerns of the church.
NCW chief Rekha Sharma had triggered a political storm by recommending to abolish the practice of "confessions" in churches, saying that it can lead to blackmailing of women. Sharma also pressed for a central agency to investigate the incidents of rape and sexual assault in the churches of Kerala.
"The priests pressure women into telling their secrets and we have one such case in front of us, there must be many more such cases and what we have right now is just a tip of the iceberg," she said.
The recommendation by the NCW was made in the backdrop of a rape case against four priests of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church who were accused of sexually exploiting a married woman by using her confession made before a clergyman.
The issue came to the fore after the victim's husband wrote to the church, alleging that the priests blackmailed and abused his wife.
The NCW also constituted an inquiry committee to look into incidents of alleged sexual assault of women in churches and send its findings to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi and the police chiefs of Kerala and Punjab for necessary action.
(With PTI inputs)